For today’s local business, social media is a powerful tool in your public relations and marketing toolbox. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ among others allow you to connect with your customers in a personal way, transmitting information about sales, promotions, and new products almost instantaneously.
For many local business owners, however, posting to multiple social media profiles can be time consuming and even tedious at times. Having to log into each account and format specific posts for each site several times a day is just not feasible, and so often times these pages are not leveraged as well as they could be.
Fortunately, there are two very good social media management services that allow you to create content and schedule it to appear on many different social feeds at optimal times; they also track performance and activity while interacting with followers, all from one central location. These two services are Buffer and HootSuite, and each has different benefits for different levels of users.
Buffer – Easy and Intuitive
For the web-challenged, Buffer is definitely the way to go. It’s clean, simple and intuitive to use. While the “Awesome Plan” runs around $102 per year or $10 a month, there is a free version that will allow you to link Facebook profiles and pages, Twitter accounts, and even Google+ pages, allowing you to post to several accounts at one time.
Buffer is perfect for the user that has a lot of things to post but doesn’t want to periodically visit each social profile and post them manually. Each linked account has a “buffer” that you fill with content, to be posted at predetermined times until the buffer is empty. The site sends you an email whenever your buffer needs more content, and even recommends content for posting based on your page’s history and community interests.
Buffer’s analytics tools provide basic statistics such as click rates, reach, and retweets. Users who upgrade to the Awesome Plan get even more detailed analytics, as well as the ability for two team members to manage 12 social media profiles, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and App.net.
A browser extension for Chrome and/or Firefox allows users to add articles and links to their buffers during Internet browsing sessions with an easy click of the mouse, making content selection easy and intuitive.
HootSuite – Harder to Learn, but Endless Possibilities
HootSuite is a somewhat larger and more complex social media management tool, considered by many to be the biggest and best, capable of supporting a wide variety of platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, WordPress, and Mixi profiles.
While paid subscriptions run the gamut from under $10 to over $1000 per month depending on complexity, HootSuite also offers a free version with a number of helpful features, similar to Buffer. A basic paid subscription gives you the option to bulk schedule your posts from one single file upload, which can save massive amounts of time for those with a large number of social profiles.
HootSuite’s analytics tools allow you to track performance of specific posts, as well as viewing mentions, direct messages and general social feed on the dashboard. Clean, professional and customizable reports can be generated for presentations and professional meetings, for an additional fee.
For those who have the time and the patience to learn, HootSuite offers a lot of useful tools and devices, including the ability to display multiple feeds from various social networks at one time. And if you really want to get the most out of social media, HootSuite even runs an online training program that thoroughly explores the ins and outs of the software.
One drawback to keep in mind with both applications is that some sites may decide to prioritize posts made organically over those provided by third-party apps. Twitter, in particular, has been known to discriminate against the use of third party tools. This is certainly something to keep an eye on, and still more reason to use the analytics tools offered by both services to continuously track the success of your posts on your various accounts.
While Buffer and HootSuite are helpful, time-saving services, it’s important to remember that direct engagement is important as well. No amount of automation will ever replace the personal connection, which is the basic intent of social media sites in the first place.